Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pink Dal with Swiss Chard

Dal with Swiss Chard and Cilantro Garnish in White Ramekin, Overhead View with Black Background

This Pleasantly Spicy Vegan Indian Dish is Healthy and Frugal

Lentils don’t get much love.  Which always surprises me, because they’re versatile, inexpensive, and highly tasty.  Especially in dal — an Indian dish that can be made from dried lentils, peas, or beans (pulses). Dal is a typical side dish at Indian meals, usually served with rice or bread. And there are scores of different dal recipes — today’s post is just one example.

Because dal is high in protein (about 25% by weight, comparable to meat), it’s an important nutritional source in India, where over a third of the population are vegetarians.  And since dried lentils and beans are relatively inexpensive and go a long way, dals are an exceptionally thrifty dish.

Bottom line?  Healthy, chock full of flavor, and budget friendly.  It’s (d)all good.



Dal with Swiss Chard in Ramkein, with Napkin and Fork

Recipe:  Pink Dal with Swiss Chard

This dish uses pink (some people call them red) lentils — a salmon-colored pulse that turns a yellowish brown when cooked.  But you can use any lentil you choose (see Notes for differences in cooking times). 

I often serve this as a side dish, but it has enough flavor and nutrition that you can easily serve it as a main course.  In that case, I’d add rice and maybe a salad just to make the meal a bit more interesting.  Although this is a vegan dish, most Indians are not vegans — their diets contain several milk products, particularly cheese and yogurt.

I specify Swiss chard in this recipe, but you can use any dark green you like.  Spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens — they all work (see Notes for cooking tips).  Or you can leave out the greens entirely, and still have a delicious dal.  In fact, I used to make this recipe without the greens — until one day when I was faced with an overabundance of Swiss chard from my garden. 

Making this dish requires a bit more than 10 minutes of active prep time, plus another 35 to 40 minutes for cooking.

This recipe serves 8 as a side dish.  Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days (see Notes).  They also freeze extremely well. 

Ingredients
  • 1¼ cup pink lentils (or another lentil of your choosing; see Notes)
  • ~1 cup minced onion (about 1 large onion — add more if you like)
  • ~1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (a piece about 1 inch by 1½ inches, peeled)
  • 3 - 5 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil (I use canola oil)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard or other dark green, washed and trimmed (a pound or a bit more)
  • 2 teaspoons dried ground cumin
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons dried ground coriander (I like coriander so I use more; but you may want to start off with less)
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste; I usually double)
  • salt
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala (or to taste; see Notes)
Procedure
  1. Pick over lentils (to remove any foreign objects, like pebbles or dirt), then wash and drain.  Set aside until Step 7.
  2. Peel and mince onion (size doesn’t greatly matter — I usually cut it into ½ inch dice).
    Peel fresh ginger and mince.  Ditto with the garlic.  (I often whirl these in a mini food processor.)
  3. Heat 3- or 4-quart Dutch oven (or another pot with a heavy bottom that will be large enough to hold the lentils and about 4 cups of water) on medium heat.  When hot, add oil.  After the oil heats (it will shimmer), add onion, ginger, and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper, and sauté until translucent (5 minutes, perhaps as many as 8).
  4. Meanwhile, wash Swiss chard, remove any stems that are woody, and chop into pieces about an inch square.
  5. When the onion is translucent, add the cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes.  Stir into the onion mixture and fry for 30 seconds.  Then add the Swiss chard, stir, and cover Dutch oven with lid.  Lower heat to medium-low, and cook for 5 minutes (you’re steaming and tenderizing the Swiss chard).
  6. At the 5-minute mark, add the pink lentils and 3 to 4 cups water (depending on how soupy you want your dal to be; you can add less up front, and more later if you wish).  Salt to taste (½ teaspoon for me).  Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer.  You’ll simmer for about 30 minutes, but take a look at the pot after about 15 to see if you need to adjust the water level.
  7. When the dal is done (the lentils will be soft but still hold their shape), taste and adjust seasoning.  Stir in the garam masala, remove from heat, and serve.
Dal with Swiss Chard on Plate with Yellow Rice, with Napkin and Fork

Notes
  • Pink lentils can be found in many supermarkets (if you don’t see them with the packaged dried beans and lentils, look in the section where they sell bulk grains and other products — if your supermarket does that).  They’re also available at any Indian market. 
  • Pink lentils have great flavor and are one of the fastest cooking lentils.  But you can substitute any lentil.  If you substitute common brown lentils (every supermarket carries these packaged in 1-pound bags), you’ll probably need to increase cooking time by 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Swiss chard is actually very similar to the type of spinach grown in India, which is one reason it works so well in this dish. 
  • But if you don’t want to use Swiss chard, just substitute spinach (the type you find in the typical American supermarket).  As noted above, you can also substitute another dark leafy green like kale or collards.  These greens are tougher than Swiss chard (or spinach), however, so you may want to cook them another 5 minutes in Step 6 (this is optional; they’ll still be plenty tender by the time the dal is finished, but may have a bit of chew).
  • Garam masala is a mixture of spices commonly used in Indian cooking, particularly in northern India.  It’s aromatic but not spicy hot.  The blend of spices differs from one maker to another, but it virtually always includes ground black pepper and cloves, and usually cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon.  Most supermarkets carry it (all the major spice manufacturers offer it).  If you can’t find it, substitute a couple pinches each of ground cloves, ground cinnamon, ground cumin, and black pepper. 
  • You should add the garam marsala at the end of cooking, right before serving.  That’s because its main function is to impart an appealing aroma (although of course garam marsala does provide some flavor too).  You’ll definitely notice the aroma as you bring a forkful of dal to your mouth.  You can add more garam masala than I call for, but be careful — add too much and its flavor dominates the dish.
  • If you refrigerate or freeze leftover dal, make sure you reheat it to at least 165 degrees F.  Because lentils (and other pulses) are so nutritious, they make excellent breeding grounds for bacteria.  But this is nothing to worry about as long as you reheat it properly.
  • For the same reason, you want to refrigerate dal promptly when the meal is over.
  • The word “dal” can be used for a cooked dish (the way I’m using it here) or as a generic term for the pulse from which the dish is made.  Thus, both pink lentils and common brown lentils are called dals.
Dal with Swiss Chard in Ramkein, with Napkin and Fork

Indian Fortnight on Kitchen Riffs

This week and next we’ll be discussing some Indian dishes.  In fact, we’ll be putting together an entire dinner menu (sans dessert — I find most Indian desserts too sweet).  The dishes I’ll be offering are ones I think most people will like, and are all pretty straightforward to prepare.  I’ve cooked and served all of them to company numerous times, and they have been well received.

Actually, I’m having trouble limiting the number of recipes to just two weeks’ worth!  I could do months of Indian recipes — I love the many flavors and cuisines of India.  So rest assured that this series won’t be the last Indian cooking on Kitchen Riffs

Later this week, we’ll discuss Aromatic Yellow Rice, a terrific dish that pairs well with dal of all descriptions.  It would be appropriate with any Indian meal, but it’s equally at home next to roast chicken or grilled fish. 

Namaste.  And see you next time.

You may also be interested in reading about:
Sweet Potatoes in Curry Sauce
Red-Braised Beans and Sweet Potatoes
White Bean and Potato Soup
Split Pea Soup with Greens
Vegan Mapo Tofu
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans Easy Lentil Soup
Black-Eyed Peas and Collard Green Soup

70 comments:

  1. Ooooh mum makes pink daal all the time but the idea of Swiss chard being involved is simply brilliant :D
    This looks awesome!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi CCU, it's an incredibly tasty dish and something I'll bet you'd really enjoy. Although sadly lacking in chocolate. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  2. I have a bag of the pink lentils in the pantry in New Hampshire. I'll be making this when we return home from Maine. I love lentils and your recipe sounds terrific.

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    1. Hi Karen, aren't pink lentils wonderful? If you like lentils, I think you'll really like this recipe. But it's so easy to play with - you can add, subtract ingredients to suit your mood. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. Yum yum! I have always loved all types of lentils. Your recipe and photos are mouthwatering, thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Spicie Foodie, lentils are one of my favorite legumes. Flavorful, healthy, and pretty quick to prepare. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  4. I am super excited about these posts - I love Indian Food like crazy. I make a lentil soup like this all winter. Soooo good :)

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    1. Hi everydaymaven, glad you like Indian food - it's one of my favorite cuisines. And once you learn some basics, not too difficult. Thanks for your comment.

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  5. This sounds like such a very satisfying dish, especially for us lentil lovers, and with WInter coming, I bet this would make a great lunch on a cold day. I can definitely see myself making a large batch and freezing most of it for wintry meals. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Chicago John, we freeze this all the time - there are just two of us, and we can't possibly eat it all at once (even when we serve it to company). This is a great cold weather dish. Thanks for your comment.

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  6. My husband makes a different curry every weekend and he loves lentils in particular so he will enjoy this weekend. I must admit I would have added the garam masala at the beginning to cook a little in oil to bring out the flavour so this is a new idea to add it at the end. I'm looking forward to the rest of the posts.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, adding the cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes at the beginning helps build that layer of flavor I think you're looking for. Think of the garam masala, in this instance at least, kind of like the frosting on a cake - you're adding another layer of flavor on top of all the other flavors. Thanks for your comment.

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  7. I went to an Indian cooking demonstration yesterday and I can't get the gorgeous smells out of my head! I think we'll be cooking Indian for 2 weeks. :)

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    1. Hi Maureen, aren't the aromas from Indian cooking so enticing? I just love the food! Thanks for the comment.

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  8. I try to cook with lentils are often as I can. Such a great dish - thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Tania, lentils are wonderful - I love their earthy flavor. They're particularly nice when spiced with Indian spices. Thanks for your comment.

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  9. My family often go to street vendors to eat the Dal curry with Roti Canai as breakfast here in Malaysia. There are so good. We try not to eat too often though. I think adding the Swiss chard is great variation to this dish. Nicely done!

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    1. Hi Holly, I love to put greens in things! And their flavors combines particularly well with pulses of all kinds. Thanks for the comment.

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  10. Looks wholesome! Dal is one of my favorites in Indian cuisine, follows Palak paneer. I like the dark green addition, makes it all more nutritional. Gotta show it to my good Indian friend who always cooks for us, so I really don't get to cook Indian at home. Maybe I should try to be self sufficient :)

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    1. Hi Ilke, it's really worth learning how to make Indian food - once you figure out the spices and find the ingredients, and learn a few techniques, it's quite easy. And it quickly became pretty intuitive, for me at least. Thanks for the comment.

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  11. I know what you mean about lentils being under appreciated. It was only this past spring when I made a dish of lamb shanks with lentil ragu that my husband declared for the first time that he liked lentils. But I guess, better late then never, right? ;)

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    1. Hi Carolyn, oh, lamb shanks with lentils is a wonderful dish. It's been ages since I've cooked it! In fact lamb anything with lentils is a great combo. Glad your husband finally saw the light. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  12. Lentils with green is a must in our home at least once a week...
    This looks fabulous... A bowl full of comfort and health...

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    1. Hi Reem, isn't lentils and greens a great combo? Really great depth of flavor - such good stuff! Thanks for your comment.

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  13. John...I really enjoy Indian cuisine and that lead photo of yours is so beautiful and inviting! The aroma in your kitchen must have been heaven! I'm going to keep my eye out for the pink lentils. This looks like a perfect and hearty dish for fall! : )

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    1. Hi Anne, this is a great fall dish. Or I've even been known to serve it in the summer! Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  14. I have only used pink lentils to make a lentil soup so far. I look forward to trying out this new recipe and all the upcoming Indian recipes you will be sharing

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    1. Hi Sawsan, you can use any kind of lentils in this dish, but the pink ones are particularly inviting (and they're so pretty!). Hope you enjoy the upcoming recipes! Thanks for your comment.

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  15. Look at the spices in that dish, Yum!

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    1. Hi Raymund, a lotta spices there - but (d)all good! ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  16. I've just started cooking with lentils a bit more this year. This dahl looks delicious!

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    1. Hi Ali, for some reason years ago I stopped cooking with lentils for a year or two - just got out of the habit, I don't know why. Silly, because they're simple to use and have great flavor. Thanks for your comment.

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  17. I love dal recipes! This looks totally delicious.

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    1. Hi Jen, isn't dal good stuff? So many different kinds, all wonderful. Thanks for your comment.

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  18. Completely and totally LOVE Indian food. Period. So can't wait to see whatcha got cookin'! I have some Naan in the freezer and this might be the perfect dish for tonight! I really love the pairing with the yellow rice. Delish. Thanks as always for a comprehensive overview and recipe!

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    1. Hi Kelly, this is a great dish to go with Naan. I'm going to be doing 4 or maybe 5 dishes total this week and next, and all except for 1 (maybe 2 - haven't quite decided) are going to be vegan, which of course is important to you. Thanks for commenting.

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  19. You know I really don't eat too many lentils and I'm not sure why especially because they're so good for you. This recipe looks delicious the way you've prepared it. I'm saving it to try and hopefully I can get my husband to indulge as well. That's doubtful but one can try!

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    1. Hi Vicki, lentils have terrific flavor! And combined with Indian spices? Bliss! Hope you have success with this dish & your husband. Thanks for the comment.

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  20. I love eating dal - but have never made them at home. This looks so perfect for the fall season!

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    1. Hi Yudith, I found it's easy to overlook dal because there are so many terrific Indian dishes out there, and of course I want to try them all. But dal is really easy to make, extremely flavorful, and it's easy to tinker with the recipe to suit mood/ingredients. And it tastes to great! Thanks for the comment.

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  21. This recipe with pink lentils look awesome...like the addition of the Swiss chard...and yes I can have this a main dish...
    Thanks for the recipe as I am trying to have more lentils on our table :)
    Have a wonderful week!

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    1. Hi Juliana, lately we've been having this more as a main dish than as a side - there's enough flavor and satisfaction that it's really all we need (rice too). Thanks for your comment.

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  22. A scrumptious combination! I love spicy lentil dishes like this one.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Ho Rosa, it's really nice! And you can add even more spice if you want more of a kick. Thanks for your comment.

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  23. I have to admit that I'm one that doesn't give lentils much love. :) To be honest, I don't order them because the couple of times I have ordered them, I didn't like them. I made them once and that was a total failure! Maybe it's just that I haven't had the right dish or found the right recipe. I keep wanting to give them another try because of the nutritional value, so your recipe might just have to be the one I try. With all of that ginger and garlic, it has to be good! I'm also a huge Swiss chard fan, so that's an added plus. O.K. I'll give them another chance this fall! :)

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    1. Hi MJ, it might be that lentils just don't speak to you. And truthfully, some lentil dishes have a rather austere flavor - I'm thinking in particular of some French recipes (which to be fair are built around a different kind of lentil than what we typically see in the US). Although the flavoring is quite different, a good dal has somewhat the same essence of red beans and rice. No ham so you don't get those great flavors, but the ginger, garlic, and spices add a lot. I'll be interested to see how you like this dish! Thanks for your comment.

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  24. Now this is what I would call guilt-free but robust and hearty type of comfort food. Rice or bread would work for me on this one, John. Thank you for this post and enjoy the rest of the week. :)

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    1. Hi Ray, it's good stuff! Extremely tasty nutritious, and pretty easy to prepare. Not the perfect dish, but close! Thanks for your comment.

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  25. This sounds good but I wonder how successfully you can substitute other lentils? Pink (red) or white lentils will generally break down to mush when cooked where green or brown generally hold their shape. It seems different lentils would produce a completely different although still tasty dish?

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    1. Hi Food Junkie, you make a good point that other lentils have somewhat different flavors, so of course the dish will be a little different depending on what lentil you use. But the essence will be there. And as I pointed out, different lentils do have different cooking times. The timing here works for pink lentils; brown lentils take a bit longer, and will begin to lose their shape as you cook them longer (the pink lentils I used are just at the stage where they're losing their shape; but in the 3rd picture in particular you can see some still retain their shape). But I definitely didn't mean to imply that different lentils would produce a dish that tasted identical! There will be differences, but reasonably subtle. Thanks for your comment.

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  26. Gorgeous Dal! I have been trying to stay away from gluten and eggs and have begun eating many more and more Indian dishes over the last year. I would love to make a huge pot of this yummy dal and eat it for breakfasts and lunches. Lots of vitamins and nutrients and super tasty as well.

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    1. Hi Bam, isn't it pretty? Indian food is so delish - very satisfying, and much of it is exceptionally healthy. I haven't had dal for breakfast, though I don't know why - it's great! Thanks for the comment.

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  27. What a hearty and healthy dish! Looks great.

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    1. Hi Amanda, it's really good stuff - worth making. Thanks for the comment.

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  28. I like to put lentils in soups. This dish sounds tasty and healthy.

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    1. Hi Words of Deliciousness, I'm also really fond of putting lentils (and any kind of bean, really) into soups. Makes them so hearty and satisfying. This dish is terrific - really worth making. Thanks for your comment.

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  29. Swiss chard is definitely my next new veggie adventure! Although I've never tried Indian Dal, this dish looks very delicious and healthy! That's what I need right now... :)

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    1. Hi Nami, Swiss chard is good stuff - think of it as spinach on steroids! You can even use it in salads when it's young and tender. The flavor is different, of course, but there's a resemblance. Thanks for your comment.

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  30. You see dahl on the menus of all Indian restaurants. They sure do cook with lentils a lot. And like you say, we all should, because they're cheap, go a long way and are so very good for you xx

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    1. Hi Hotly Spiced, dal is one of those basic sides that every Indian restaurant seems to offer. And Indian cooking does use an awful lot of pulses in their cooking - a great meat alternative. Thanks for your comment.

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  31. ah a great vegan choice for lunch! i'd love to try as well.

    Latest: Durian Dim Sum??

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    1. Hi Fish, welcome! And yes, this is a great lunch dish. Or dinner. Or . . . ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  32. This is great comfort food! Pink lentils are my favorite, but I really like all lentils. I'd love this as a main dish--for lunch today!

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    1. Hi Lisa, aren't lentils nice? I'm on board with liking all lentils too, although pink and the everyday brown ones are my favs. I think you should go for this for lunch today! Thanks for the comment.

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  33. I must admit, I'm not a huge fan of lentils. I'm not sure what it is, maybe It's just that I prefer meat over them? Either way, you're always so good at making these ingredients look so delicious. :D Maybe I'll give it a go. ;)

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    1. Hi Jenny, although lentils are often used as a meat substitute, you can think of them as a veggies, too. Lamb and French lentils (those green ones) are a classic combo that is so wonderful - you might want to give that a try sometime. And this dish has a lot of flavor - I don't think you'll miss meat. Besides, you can serve it with meat! It goes nicely with tandoori chicken. Thanks for your comment.

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  34. John, this dish is so-so-so good! And I even have all the ingredients for it. That's a dinner! Thank you! :)

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    1. Hi Marina, it's a really excellent dish, and really can be a dinner (with rice). Hope you enjoy it! Thanks for commenting.

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  35. I am looking forward to all your Indian inspired recipes, I don't make enough Indian dishes. I really don't know enough about the spices that are used in each dish. Thank you for sharing about the pink lentils, I need to find some! I just wanted to share, the proper temp to reheat food is actually 165:-) Take care, Terra

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    1. Hi Terra, Indian food is great! And you'll enjoy pink lentils - delicate flavor, and so quick to cook. Thanks for the heads up about 165 degrees rather than 160 - I'll edit the post! And thanks for the comment.

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